When 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Reign soccer star Megan Rapinoe take a knee during the national anthem, is their silent protest disrespectful or justified?
Some are offended, others inspired, and many of us are left wondering what’s next in athletes’ protests of racial inequality and police brutality during the national anthem as the Seahawks kick off their season Sunday and the nation commemorates the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
Will the movement gain momentum, with whole squads such as the Seahawks contemplating group protests? Or will the team instead, as receiver Doug Baldwin tweeted, “honor the country and flag” and find some middle ground?
Will team owners use pre-emptive strikes like the Washington Spirit did Wednesday, playing the anthem before players left the locker rooms, denying Seattle soccer star Megan Rapinoe a chance to take what the Spirit called a “disrespectful” knee? Will we still care when Thanksgiving rolls around?
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Going into the weekend, Kaepernick had been joined in solidarity only by teammate Eric Reid, Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane, Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall and Rapinoe of the Reign FC. But the Seahawks are planning a team-wide statement, which could be a game-changer in a league where two-thirds of the players are black and where, some say, white owners occasionally resemble plantation masters from “Django Unchained” looking down from luxury boxes at black gladiators.
Others, such as Garfield High School football players, spent the week talking about whether to make a statement before their game Saturday afternoon, according to coach Joey Thomas. Ultimately, the anthem wasn’t played before that game, as it wasn’t the first of the day in Memorial Stadium.
The city of Dupont in Pierce County canceled its Third Annual Seahawks rally that was scheduled for Saturday. “This does not mean that I or the city do not support the causes being championed, we simply do not support the protest actions being contemplated,” said Mayor Mike Courts.
The tradition of standing during the national anthem has some roots here in the Pacific Northwest. In 1893, Army General Rossell O’Brien, a Civil War veteran, made a motion at a meeting in Tacoma that all should stand at attention during the Star Spangled Banner. A local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution later hung a plaque on the Bostwick Building in Tacoma toasting O’Brien for starting the custom, although others credit statesman Daniel Webster with launching the tradition decades earlier.
Protests by athletes are not new, either. At the 1968 Olympics, U.S. sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith stood on the medal platform and raised gloved fists in a black power salute against racial injustice. They said they were inspired by Muhammad Ali, who resisted the Vietnam War draft declaring, “My enemy is the white people not the Viet Congs.” Sportscaster Brent Musburger, then a young writer, called Smith and Carlos “black-skinned storm troopers.”
Some will find protests all the more distasteful on 9/11 because of the idea they disrespect the U.S. military, which has secured our freedom to watch games and express dissent (except in instances such as the 1932 Bonus Army and 1970 Kent State protests, when soldiers killed and wounded veterans and students).
But as Baldwin noted, the America that seemed so united after 9/11 is hardly that today.
And, history has judged Ali, Smith and Carlos more favorably than they were at the time.
With that in mind, The Seattle Times asked a handful of Washingtonians how they define patriotism and how they practice it; what they think of the anthem protests; how they would go about protesting; and whether an athletic event is even an appropriate place for such protests. Their answers — ranging from Kaepernick is “absolutely, positively wrong” to he “wasn’t harming anybody” — are below, edited for length.
D.K. Pan, artist and activist
‘There’s a lot of politics in athletics’
Sports events, said local artist and activist D.K. Pan, have been a longtime platform for social and political protest, from Muhammad Ali to the Black Power salute by medal-winning runners at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
“The idea that athletics is free from social or political discourse is just not true,” Pan said, adding that Kaepernick “wasn’t harming anybody, but instead set himself up for critique or violence” by refusing to stand during the national anthem.
“There’s a lot of politics in athletics in the first place,” he explained — gender politics, racial politics, who gets access to what kind of attention, equipment and corporate sponsorship.
“One criticism I heard about Kaepernick was that he was at his workplace and he shouldn’t be allowed to express his political views in the workplace,” Pan said. “But he is a citizen first and then an athlete — just like I’m a citizen first and then an artist or a worker.” (Pan works with homeless populations as part of the nonprofit Plymouth Housing Group.)
“My idea of patriotism is ‘e pluribus unum’ — out of many, we are one — and acts of service,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong about having pride about where one is from … But I don’t necessarily value patriotism, or how it’s used like a club and a proving ground for some people. Generally, the people I know who’ve served in the military or done public service aren’t blowhards who wear that on their sleeves.”
But, he added, “there can be a reclamation of patriotism, a sense of ‘this flag belongs as much to me as to anybody else.’”
Pan has been arrested for protesting at national presidential conventions, like the 2004 Republication National Convention in New York City when he played with the protest-marching band Infernal Noise Brigade. The essence of protest, he said, “is a body expressing dissent in public. Sometimes, defiant gestures are a powerful way of doing service to your fellow citizens … Colin’s passive resistance is very poignant at this time. It falls within the long civil-rights tradition of occupying space in a certain way as a form of protest.”
Once in awhile, he added, “not going along to get along can be very powerful.”
— Brendan Kiley
Maureen Peltier, National Guard veteran
‘He’s free to do whatever he wants’
She was one of the people who ended up speaking a lot for the occupiers of the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last winter.
Maureen Peltier, 42, of Orting, served in Iraq with the National Guard and is now on disability.
She wasn’t among those inside the Malheur compound taken over by armed anti-government militants. But she was communicating with them, and relaying their flag-draped message to reporters and on Facebook postings.
So what does Peltier think about Kaepernick not standing for the national anthem?
“It’s America. He’s free to do whatever he wants. I don’t say I like it,” she said. “I respect my flag, my country, our national government. If he’s protesting he should find another way.”
And protesting at an athletic event?
Fine, if the NFL doesn’t object, she says. After all, a pro player works for the league.
“I had rules when I was in the Army,” says Peltier. But if the NFL has no rules about such a protest, well, “You’re good to go.”
Of course, she said, “If you care about the fans you may consider saving it for another time.”
If you disagree with something the government is doing, said Peltier, “You tell them. You write. You call. You show up at various agencies to show your face. You have meetings, you stand your ground. You speak out. You never stop.”
— Erik Lacitis
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Adams
‘I take extreme offense’
Thomas Adams’ Army duty took him to Mosul, Iraq, where he was command sergeant major for a brigade that was slammed by 1,387 roadside bombs and other attacks that killed 45 soldiers and wounded another 632.
He gets angry — really angry — when he hears anyone say that his service was about protecting the First Amendment rights of Kaepernick, or anyone else, to sit down during the playing of the national anthem.
“I’m outraged that this guy protested in this fashion. I take extreme offense,” Adams sait. “And I don’t want someone saying I served my country for 28 years so this guy can be a knucklehead. That’s not why.”
Adams said he respects the Black Lives Matter movement that Kaepernick says he’s supporting through his refusal to stand for the national anthem. But he thinks that Kaepernick is totally misguided in choosing this form of his protest — bucking what Adams calls a “societal norm” in an action that can cause pain to many veterans and police officers.
Adams’ life is closely tied to the military. He lives near JBLM, and works at Camp Murray, where he assists National Guard veterans. Adams has found himself drawn to the unfolding controversy even as it, and the run-up to 9/11, stir up difficult memories of his 2004 deployment to Mosul from what was then Fort Lewis.
He wonders where are the leaders in Kaepernick’s chain of command who could counsel him on a better way to protest.
“I think if you piss on the national anthem, what’s next?” Adams said. “Why do we hand out a flag when a veteran dies? Why do we play taps? These are societal norms and no Colin Kaepernick, in Tom Adams’ mind, is going to change that anytime soon.”
— Hal Bernton
Khawja Shamsuddin, Bellevue police volunteer
Overt patriotism can be ‘oppressive’
Khawja “Shams” Shamsuddin has lived in many countries: his native Bangladesh (formerly East Parkistan), England, Canada and finally the United States. He’s witnessed violent, revolutionary protests and now the refusal to stand for the national anthem by American athletes.
For him, patriotism is more a matter of personal pride than public display.
“Here in this country, people seem to wear their patriotism on their sleeve. I feel like people expect me to show it all the time.”
Every Thursday, Shamsuddin, 72, volunteers at the front desk of the Bellevue Police Department’s Factoria substation, answering phones, directing residents to city resources and keeping one ear tuned to the police scanner on his desk. He’s volunteered for the department, and in other city offices, for the past 16 years, putting in more than 4,000 hours and winning an Outstanding Volunteer Service Award from Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2011.
Shamsuddin has gone on many ride-alongs with Bellevue police officers and says he’s been impressed with the officers’ professionalism and their need to make high-stakes, life-or-death decisions in an instant.
He also understands residents’ apprehensions about the police.
“Ninety percent of the public, when they meet the police, they’re being ticketed or questioned. It’s to their disadvantage,” he said.
He’s also aware of the shootings of people of color around the country by police and the Black Lives Matter protests. As long as the protests, including those by athletes, do no harm to anyone, he said he doesn’t object.
Shamsuddin said he doesn’t put his hand over his heart when the National Anthem is sung, but he stands at attention. He doesn’t fly the flag from his front porch, but he observes the Fourth of July. He votes in local and national elections “with great gusto.”
“These are our rights as citizens and I take great pride in them, but I don’t want to be crushed by it either. Sometimes, in this country, we make patriotism so overt it’s oppressive.”
— Lynn Thompson
Joey Thomas, Garfield football coach
Protest ‘is not about soldiers’
The varsity students on the Garfield High School team met this past week to decide whether they’d stand or sit for the national anthem.
Their game — the second of the season — was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium against Juanita High School.
The team had stood for the anthem at its first game, and coach Joey Thomas said there had been “some grumblings” from players.
“We have a lot of players of color,” said Thomas. “We’ll talk as a team about how we’ll move forward. If there are disagreements, we’ll be able to discuss that. That’s brotherhood. If our players choose not to stand I’m OK with that.” Ultimately, the anthem wasn’t even played before their game kicked off.
About 40 percent of Garfield students are white, 26 percent black, 17 percent Asian and eight percent Latino.
Thomas, 36, has stood through plenty of national anthems throughout his football career, starting from his days at Kennedy Catholic High School, to Montana State, to his six years with the NFL, to now six years coaching at Ballard and now Garfield High Schools.
“That’s what you were supposed to do,” he said. “You didn’t think none of it.”
But now … now things have changed.
“I support Colin Kaepernick. Have you heard the third verse of the national anthem? In the third verse they talk about murdering slaves. When you hear that third verse it puts it into context. (No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, and the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave …”)
“This is not about soldiers. (Kaepernick) gave respect to soldiers. He’s very grateful for them fighting for our country to live in the luxury that we have. He’s talking about social injustices. It’s hard to stand and salute that song when you are aware what the song is really saying.”
Sports is “absolutely a great venue” for a protest, said Thomas.
“Are you telling me that sports figures can’t protest? That doesn’t sound very free to me,” he said. “This is about social injustice. It’s about these African-American males being murdered by police officers and there’s not even a trial.”
Patriotism? How does Thomas try to fulfill that ideal?
“Trying to be the best person I can be, treating everybody with respect, kindness and love,” he says.
— Erik Lacitis
Brad Klippert, veteran, sheriff’s deputy and state representative
‘I wish he would stop’
When he was deployed with the U.S. Army to Bosnia in the late 1990s, state Rep. Brad Klippert cherished patriotic songs played by military bands sent to bolster troop morale.
“I was thousands of miles away from my family and country and friends and loved ones,” he recalled. “Tears just flowed down my eyes.”
A Republican legislator from Kennewick, Klippert has spent decades in the military and in law enforcement. He takes his patriotism seriously.
An American flag, lit 24 hours a day, flies in front of his house. As a school-resource officer for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, Klippert joins in daily recitals of the Pledge of Allegiance and organizes an annual Veterans Day assembly.
He does not appreciate professional athletes like Kaepernick sitting during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police shootings of African Americans.
Klippert stressed he recognizes that Kaepernick and others have a constitutional right to peaceable protest. “But I think what he is doing is absolutely, positively wrong,” he said. “I wish he would stop.”
He sees such protests as insulting to veterans who have died or been wounded in wars to, adding the NFL should make it an official policy that athletes stand to honor the U.S. flag and national anthem.
Klippert also disagrees with Kaepernick and others’ views of police conduct.
“I’ve been a law enforcement officer for 23 years. I don’t think he has a clue what our jobs are like, and the split-second decisions we make,” he said.
Instead of protesting at football games, Klippert suggested Kaepernick do what he did when he didn’t like the direction of his country — run for political office.
Klippert traces his own motivation to enter politics to anger over the U.S. Senate’s decision to acquit President Bill Clinton on impeachment charges of obstruction of justice and perjury stemming from the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Klippert lost two U.S. Senate bids in primaries before setting his sights lower and winning election to the state House in 2008.
“That’s what I did instead of sitting home and complaining,” Klippert says.
— Jim Brunner
Herculez Gomez, Sounders forward
‘I’ve learned … that I’m very privileged’
Sounders forward Herculez Gomez is the son of Mexican immigrants and a former member of the U.S. men’s national team. He understands the impulse to stand up and represent for minority communities — while also being unabashedly patriotic about the opportunities this country has afforded himself and his family.
And so asked about the right to protest, and how his answer would have been different before he made it big as a professional soccer player, Gomez’s answer was understandably multifaceted.
“I’m a product of my environment and of the circumstances that I’ve lived,” Gomez said. “Those rough edges have been smoothed over. I’ve learned from being in different parts of the country and different parts of the world that I’m very privileged.
“My best friend in this world is an African-American heterosexual male, and he’s a cop. I worry about his safety every day. I know he’s in a tough position, because he’s experienced those things that affected his every day life and now he’s on the other side. He’s blue.
“If you were to have asked me this 10 years ago, it would have been very different. I would’ve told you about me getting pulled over at 16, being asked to show my license and registration, reaching in the glove compartment for it and all of a sudden getting a handgun in my face — because the cop was scared I was reaching for something else.
“It’s something that happened to me. For a long time, I carried that with me. It wasn’t until I got older and learned and experienced and saw things that I really learned to value not only that officer’s job — to appreciate what he does and that he’s willing to put his life on the line every day for our freedoms.”
— Matt Pentz